what is your experience of mentoring programmes?

One reason I started this blog is that my left and right brains don’t seem to be connected to each other: I tend not to know what I think until I hear myself stating an opinion, and then I’m often horrified by what I hear. So blogging is a bit like talking to myself. Steven Pinker (I think) even suggests this — talking to oneself, not blogging — is the most plausible reason for the evolution of speech. Anyroadup, I haven’t been doing enough of either during the last few months, and I’m feeling the effects.

However, I have recently discovered the fun of asking and answering questions on LinkedIn, and I’m finding it has much the same effect as talking to myself. So when I answer a question over there, and in so doing discover I have an opinion I like, I’ll share it here too. Here’s the first one…

Andrew Calvert asked: “What is your experience of mentoring programmes? Mentoring; some think is an organic process that cannot be artificially replicated. Others think that you can assign mentors to learning partners (or mentees!) put in enough structure and have a working mentor programme. What do YOU think? Experiences?”

My answer:

I believe mentoring involves a) being a role model, and b) partnering to share knowledge. Institutional mentoring programmes (such as buddy systems for new joiners) can be great initially, but in my experience only pass on basic information. On the other hand, role modelling — and the kind of mentoring that goes along with it — has longer lasting and more positive effects.

In my work in software development I always try to involve both aspects. And I find that mentees (sic) self-select once they’ve seen that I’m working in a way that gets results. So when a developer asks for my help, he’s usually already seen how I work; I can therefore help him solve his problem in the same way.

So yes, I think mentoring is “organic” and should not be forced upon people. But organic growth always starts with a seed, and I believe that seed is the presence of role models who are willing to help and share.

Do you have experience of role modelling or mentoring programmes? Which works (best)?

4 thoughts on “what is your experience of mentoring programmes?

  1. Hi!
    well i am studying computer engineer in Venezuela. i’m about to finish my carrear and i’m doing my thesis. it’s about agile development with CMMI. i wanna know if you have some kind information that i can use. and make a change of ideas

  2. Hi – I prefer the ‘organic’ mentoring approach. I’ve been both a mentee & a mentor in corporate mentoring programs & have found them to be fairly unsatisfactory from both perspectives. On the other hand I’ve had several amazing informal mentors who have really helped me to grow. Also I have informally mentored a several people. This ‘organic’ mentoring seems less forced and more ‘real’.

  3. Hi Kevin,

    I like your answer. I think, though, that partnering to share knowledge is more important in IT than acting as a role model, in the sense that the former is always useful but the latter is probably of benefit to solve individual problems.

    I firmly agree that any sort of mentoring (whether it goes by that name, or by “consulting”, “training”, “pairing” etc), should only be done when someone asks for it. Offering advice can be taken as a personal attack, although it does depend how long the person has had a tyre pump attached to their ego. That’s not universally true, of course. There are people who genuinely like having someone stroll past and say “did you know you can replace that hundred-line file with a few calls to libXXX.so”, or “hey, you can make that run 10x faster if you change this…”. I try to be that way myself.

    Occasionally, I come across genuine people who don’t have advanced ego-itis, but who are reluctant (too shy sometimes, maybe lacking a goal, or stuck in a routine even though really they know it is ineffective) to ask for help. These people are frustrating because I *want* to offer help to see them improve, but they have no inclination to ask for it. The best you can do then is asking if they want to spend time and see what you are up to (as opposed to sitting down with what they are doing), figure out what goal they *would* have, and say, “hmm, but if you are doing X, don’t you find that Y happens all the time” (as opposed to “doing X is wrong, because you want to make Z happen, because I say so”).

    I’ve got no experience of formal mentoring programmes. I did some pair programming training shortly before I quit my job, though. If you are interested I wrote up about the experience here: Teaching BDD by pair-programming.

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